2023 County Monaghan Volunteer Awards Winners Announced
The winners of the 2023 County Monaghan Volunteer Awards were announced at an event in the Garage Theatre 12th November. The event was organised by Monaghan Volunteer Centre (MVC), part of Monaghan Integrated Development (MID). It was attended nominees, their families and friends and other members of the organisations they volunteer with.
Gabriel O’Connell, C.E.O. of MID reminded those in attendance that the winners are only a small sample of the amazing volunteers in Co. Monaghan and the judges had a difficult task to choose just one winner in each category. Gabriel also pointed out that MID, like other charities, depends on its own voluntary board of directors and thanked them and the Volunteer Centre steering group members for their help.
MVC staff Sinéad Keenan, Grace Sherry and Liza Hackett presented details of all the nominees in each of the three categories and then announced the winners in each category.
Volunteer Group of the Year
The winning group were the volunteers who make up the board of the The Down Syndrome Centre North East. They set up the DSCNE five years ago and continue to run it today. They have created a very special facility that provides support services to meet the individual needs of children with Down Syndrome and their families, from babies right up to teenagers. Most directors are parents of children with Down Syndrome, with others brought in to provide extra skills in particular areas. They bring a special mix of professionalism, personal experience and genuine passion to their organisation. Together with their staff and other volunteers, they are now providing support to almost 90 families.
Volunteer of the Year
This award went to long-time volunteer Fergal McMahon. Fergal started out with bucket collections for a variety of different charities and later moved to organising fundraisers and leading teams of volunteers. Fergal joined Solas Drop In Centre as a volunteer in 2014 and later became a committee member. He remains on that committee and very involved in their activities. In 2021, soon after Sosad Monaghan opened, Fergal joined their volunteer team. At Sosad Fergal combines admin tasks with answering their helpline for people in crisis at weekends and evenings. Fergal also volunteers as a phone befriender with ALONE and with Monaghan Rotary Club. Volunteer Centre records show that Fergal has done 25 different volunteer roles since 2013, making him a very worthy winner indeed!
Lifetime Achievement Award
The Lifetime Achievement Award is to recognise someone whose volunteering spans a long period of time. This year’s winner was Anne Jordan. Anne began her volunteer journey in 1989 with the Citizen’s Information Centre, at a time when it was run exclusively by volunteers. She volunteered for many years, including as chairperson. She was a founding member of Dochas for Women, now Women’s Collective Ireland – Monaghan. In 2009, Anne began to support Congolese refugees who had just arrived in Monaghan. In 2016, Anne was pivotal in establishing Failte Isteach English conversation classes in Monaghan Town. These classes provide a chance for people to learn English in an informal way, while also meeting local people and learning more about life in Monaghan. In those early days they were completely volunteer led and run. Anne worked tirelessly to expand the Failte Isteach services and to support migrants in countless practical ways. Monaghan Integrated Development now runs the Failte Isteach classes but Anne continues to volunteer, sharing her experience and knowledge with newer tutors. Anne commented that “I don’t think of myself as a do-gooder, I have just learnt so much through volunteering”.
The other nominees in each category were:
Volunteer Group of the Year
Monaghan Phoenix Athletics Club is for adults and children from age 7 upwards. The coaches and volunteers provide an invaluable resource in the community. They teach children how to take care of their health, teach them life skills and boost their self-esteem. Many of the coaches were members of the club as children and are now back with their own children. They put in many hours, not only coaching but also planning events, competitions and trips.
Carrickmacross Tidy Towns Committee began in 1985 and has since then won numerous awards, introduced Ireland’s first plastic bottle reverse vending machine and built its own poly-tunnel to supply flowers for hanging baskets, tubs and window boxes around the town. In the last couple of years, they have worked on a biodiversity park and a dog park. They collaborate with local schools and businesses to achieve their aim of improving their area and the quality of life it offers all its residents.
Monaghan Elim Church provides a wide variety of services for the congregation and the wider community. Volunteers provide a crèche and Sunday School on Sunday mornings and youth clubs for children and teenagers to socialise safely. They also provide a parent and toddler group where parents can socialise and support each other. There is also programme donating food and other necessities to people in need locally. The Church actively involves teenagers as volunteers and encourage them to take on responsibility.
The Solas Drop in Centre was established in 2001 to support people recovering from mental health difficulties and to reduce their social isolation. It is a unique service, run by its service users with some help from other volunteers. It runs a variety of activities and provides a welcoming, comfortable space where users can drop in, have a chat and feel they are not alone. Monaghan Town is very lucky to have this unique facility.
Tydavnet Parish Lunch Club volunteers provide a weekly social opportunity for older people in their community. They set up the hall, serve dinners, wash up, arrange bingo games, buy raffle prizes, chat to the older members and even dance with them. Some volunteers deliver dinners to members who are no longer able to come to the hall. They adapted to just delivering dinners to people at home during covid but have since brought back the all-important social occasion.
Ballinode Community Projects run various community events and activities with the aim of bring the community together and welcoming new people. Their events include family fun days, carol singing, heritage days, coffee mornings and lots more. They are currently fundraising for a new community centre, which no doubt will involve lots more community events.
Sosad Monaghan opened in 2021 and supports people going through mental health difficulties or dealing with bereavement through suicide. As well as an office open 5 days a week they have a 24 hour phone and text line run by Suicide Intervention Officers and a counselling service. They have built a strong team that combines paid staff, staff on employment schemes and dedicated volunteers.
Muineachan le Gaeilge is non-profit community group dedicated to the promotion of the Irish language in County Monaghan. They work to increase the opportunities of all members of the community to speak Irish on a regular basis and to learn Irish. They organises Irish classes for adults, parent and toddler groups, youth clubs for primary and secondary school children, children’s holiday camps and cultural activities. Muineachán le Gaeilge promotes volunteering by encouraging young people to get involved in organising events.
The Craft & Chat Volunteer Group run Women’s Collective Ireland and Monaghan Volunteer Centre were nominated for their work knitting and crocheting blankets, toys and sensory items that are donated to local schools, disability services and older people’s groups. The women involved come from lots of different countries and backgrounds and range in age from 18 to 80. They are currently working on Christmas gifts for isolated older people. The have previously crafted items for autism units in local schools, the Cairde Activation centre and Drumkill Day Care Centre. Sinéad Keenan of Monaghan Volunteer Centre thanked in particular the volunteers who teach their skills to others in the group, volunteer PE Brennan provides refreshments, Sharon Bradley who help organise the group and her colleague Liza Hackett and Lynn and Anita of WCI for all their hard work.
Cu Chulainn Blood Bikes volunteers give their evenings and weekends to transport blood samples and medical equipment between hospitals, as well as transporting breast milk from Ireland’s only milk bank to premature babies in hospital. They also deliver controlled drugs for terminally ill children in their own homes and collect samples from these children’s homes to bring to the lab.
Volunteer of the Year
Louise Rooney was described to us as “the spearhead, spokesperson, mover and shaker of all volunteering activities” in Oram village. She has been Chairperson of Oram Community Development Association, heavily involved in the Oram Community Development Plan, the Tidy Village Association, the Big Tom Weekend and much more. Louise is always willing to help individuals in her local community and is known for her skill in filling out forms and grant applications!
Mary Gibson is someone always caring for others, in her work at Cavan Hospital, with her own family and in her volunteering. She has been on the committee of SNAP (Special Needs Active Parents) since 2016 and is constantly busy running regular activities such as gymnastics, horse riding and coffee mornings for children and young people with special needs and their parents. Mary appreciates the families who have someone with special needs can have problems accessing activities and outings and that can be isolating. She helps by organising family trips to zoos, cinemas and pantomimes.
Mary Hall is one of the founding parents of the Down Syndrome Centre North East and is the secretary of the board. She deals with a huge amount of paperwork and organisation, acts as the link between the board and staff, attends and arranges events to promote and fundraise for the centre, such as their fashion show on Sunday. The person who nominated Mary said “Parents, staff and volunteers are truly in awe of all the time and dedication she gives and are unsure how she finds the time to do it all as well as her own home and personal life. We are very lucky to have Mary!”
David Lynch has taken on the role of Chairman for Blayney Academy FC soccer club this year. He has brought a complete new and energetic feel to the club helping to drive football, especially for girls. Thanks to David, more members of the football community are involved, as he has recruited new parents and volunteers onto the board. He has encouraged girls from all across Monaghan to take part in training and matches. David has a young family and his own business but still gives his time to provide for other people’s children. The club says it would like to recognise David’s contribution and to encourage others that it is never too late to start volunteering with your local club or organisation.
Betty Finlay volunteers all day every Tuesday with Drumkill Daycare Centre. She accompanies service users on the bus to Drumkill, assists them on and off the bus and provides company and reassurance on the journey. Betty then assists with serving meals, encouraging people to take part in activities and arranges services such as chiropody and hairdressing for them. After a busy day at the centre, Betty again assists the service users on and off the bus home. Betty gets home at 6.30 after a full day of activity. Betty goes the extra mile in all her volunteering, keeping in contact with service users when the Centre is closed and never forgetting a birthday.
The person who nominated Edelle McMahon describes her as a “local treasure”. Edellle’s “Sundown Sessions” are a twice weekly free online music session on Youtube primarily aimed at people living with Dementia. The audience can tune in live, or play back at a time that suits and requests for favourite songs are also welcome. Music can help improve mood, reduce agitation and manage anxiety and as her nominator said acts as a “simple, accessible and free time machine”
Sunday Able Ayodeji is a volunteer board member of a Monaghan Integrated Development, representing new communities in the County. He recently organised an Africa Day event at Iontas in Castleblaney this year. Able also works with LINC, a social enterprise that offers translations and other support for members of new communities.
Patrick Caldwell volunteers with Victim Support at Court. He gives between 3-5 days a week between Monaghan and Cavan Court houses. He meets victims at the courthouse and gives them practical and emotional support. Patrick makes sure each victim has a private area to wait in that is away from the public and answers any questions they may have about the court process. One person he supported described his presence as a “security blanket” and said he was always calm and available to answer questions.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Joe Connolly is a familiar face to everyone in Monaghan Town, where he has been collecting litter every day for the past 10 years. He has a friendly chat with people he meets along the way and greets visitors. Joe takes great pride in keeping the town clean and tidy. Despite attempts to retire from volunteering, Joe is too dedicated to give it up entirely!
Claire McElroy has given 30 years of service to Castleblayney Community Games. No job is too big or too small for Claire in her mission to help children and young people take part in sports, art and cultural activities which are so important for their development.
Entertainment and Food
Paul Cassidy and Mark Carmichael provided a very enjoyable music and it was hard to believe they had never played together before this event. The afternoon finished with refreshments and chat in the lobby and a chance for all the winners and nominees to have their photos taken.
Monaghan Volunteer Centre and Monaghan Integrated Development would like to thank everyone involved in the event, including the nominees and those who took the time to nominate them, all who attended the event, our board members and steering group members who presented trophies and the Garage Theatre. Thanks also to 2022 winners who attended, Marie McQuillan (lifetime achievement) and Adam Graham of the Peace Link board.
Special thanks to the Department of Rural and Community Development for assisting with the costs of the event and to Monaghan County Council and Monaghan PPN for providing items for the goodie bags.
As Gabriel O’Connell pointed out during the awards ceremony, there is a great variety of volunteer roles available. Even for people with limited free time, it is possible to find a suitable role. To find out more about volunteering or if your voluntary group would like new volunteers, please contact Sinéad, Grace or Liza at the Volunteer Centre.